Landlords offer feedback on proposed rental ordinance

Montrose Borough Council promised to produce a version of a renters’ ordinance with far fewer requirements than that of the Danville version that is being used as a model for the municipality.

This is not the first time the borough has considered adopting a renters’ ordinance. Draft ordinance proposals had been considered at least twice in the past decade. Susquehanna Depot and New Milford Borough have enacted renters’ ordinances.

At the Monday, July 8, meeting, Council President Sean Granahan said the borough was looking for a “common sense” ordinance that would help protect property values, as well as the health and safety of residents.

Granahan opened discussion on the topic by noting the borough is still in the early stages of the ordinance process. He said last week’s meeting was to gather information and feedback from the public, and expects a draft of a proposed ordinance to be available at the August meeting. If, at that time, council decides to move forward, a public hearing and vote could happen in September.

Granahan explained the Danville ordinance was being used as a model because it had tested and upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But, he said, that ordinance contains a series of documents and forms requiring more information than Montrose Borough would want.

He said provisions in the “rental agreement” section of the Danville ordinance are “areas we (Montrose Council), collectively, are not interested in.” That complete section, Granahan said, would be deleted from the proposed ordinance for Montrose.

He offered that the “residential unit checklist” would need to be adjusted or eliminated to make the ordinance more consistent with the coming property maintenance code the borough plans to enact.

Granahan also said the borough would not be looking to require annual inspections of all rental units. Inspections could be done by a “lottery system,” he offered, but no definite proposal was offered at the meeting.

The borough solicitor will be tasked with drafting the proposed ordinance.

Some local landlords attended the meeting with questions and concerns over a possible ordinance.

Rental unit owner Jack Taylor questioned why council was not implementing the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) before moving forward with a renters’ ordinance.

Taylor also asked if council had an exact number of properties in the borough the ordinance would apply to. “You don’t know who it will impact,” Taylor said.

He also noted that prices for rental properties in the area had been driven up by Marcellus Shale development, adding the new law would create a tax burden as well as administrative demands that would serve to drive up rental costs.

Taylor said a segment of the rental community is already struggling to pay in the borough’s “difficult market” and the ordinance would impact affordable housing.

Several of the landlords also questioned possible inspection fees and how rigorous those inspections would be. Councilman Craig Reimel said a $25 per unit inspection fee had been proposed in the past.

Granahan said he would expect that an average apartment would pass an inspection, but also added, “We have people living in conditions that are appalling.”

He said the borough has exhausted its resources in attempts to deal with some problem buildings and landlords.

Granahan said the bottom line of an ordinance the borough would consider would include a simple registration of landlords and an inspection system for rental units.

In other business:

*James McArthur was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Zoning Hearing Board;

*a proposed zoning map change from residential to industrial for the United Methodist Church and old hospital area was approved;

*the South Main Street sidewalk project is expected to start this month. Access to businesses will be provided during the project and paving of the street will begin following the sidewalk project.

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